She is maybe 65. She has graying hair up in a loose bun, pinned at the temples. She wears glasses. She comes in to clean my teeth, hugs me and kisses my head. She puts on her mask. As she cleans my teeth, she tells me a story:
“I had a real scare on Friday night. I just bought a new car. And I am trying to keep it clean, which I think will last two weeks. You know what I mean? I’m a messy person. I’m not allowed to eat in my car. I can drink water in my car. Those are the rules. So there are little water bottles in there. Not much of a mess, but the start of a mess.
Do you know where the College Park recycling center is, on Paint Branch Parkway? Well, it’s meant only for the university’s use. Some of my girlfriends and me use it. But these contractors and workmen abuse it. They drop off everything: paint cans, construction garbage. One threatened to kill me once. I went over to his truck and told him that he couldn’t dump here. He was a white man. He said, ‘Lady, get away from my truck, or I am going to kill you.’ And he meant it. I’m never going to do that again.
So I had a few bottles in my new car and was driving near the recycling center. It was dark. So it was, oh, well, you know, it is getting dark earlier these days. So it was getting dark. No one was there. I put my little bottles in the plastics bin and went back to my car.
I couldn’t find my keys. I panicked. I looked in the dumpster. I looked in the car. I thought I looked everywhere. I was really panicking. The woods are right there. You know those security call towers, the ones with the big red button that you push if you need help? Well, I pushed that button and no one answered. I don’t know if they go to security or to the police. But no one answered.
I went out to the road and stood there, thinking someone would drive by and see a little old lady, who looked nothing like a co-ed, and stop to see if I needed help. I stood there. No one. Two college boys ran by with no shirts on and didn’t stop. They were on the other side of the road. But they couldn’t care less.
I pushed the button again. Nothing. Again, and a woman answered. She told me security would be there in seven minutes. ‘Seven minutes!’ I was screaming at the tower. ‘Where are all those university security people?’ She told me to hold on. She came back and said, ‘He will be there in 32 seconds.’ I mean, really, seven minutes? I told her that was ridiculous. I was alone; it was dark; there were the woods right there.
When the policeman arrived, I didn’t yell at him or ask him why it was going to take seven minutes. He was so nice. He tried to calm me down. But I couldn’t calm down. We looked in the dumpster, again. But I would have heard a rattle of keys if they’d fallen in there.
You know how the new cars have very plush carpets? Well, the keys had fallen under the seat, and I hadn’t seen them.
I told the policeman I was never going there at night again. He said, ‘Good.’
I am never going there at night again.”
I love this story for so many reasons: a true scare, humor, a very clear voice, a character emerges. I had to write it down. I don’t know what I am going to do with it.